History Lesson: The Latchis Family & The Theater Empire They Built.

For many years, Latchis board member and nationally known author Gordon Hayward has been collecting stories about the original Latchis family and the construction of our building. Over the course of the last twelve months and after countless hours of conversation with relatives far and wide, he’s written a book on how this downtown stalwart building came to be.

Titled Greek Epic: The Latchis Family and the New England Theater Empire They Built, and due out on October 15, the volume traces the Latchis family on their journey from a remote Greek village in the Peloponnese mountains, to immigrant fruit vendors, to proprietors of a fourteen theatre empire in New England.

We know October is two months away, so we’re giving you a juicy sneak peak of the coming book. Buckle up and get ready because not only are these stories beautiful and poignant, they’re also full of insight into art deco in America and how that global movement played out right here in the small town of Brattleboro.
An expert storyteller and art historian in one, Hayward uses the physical features of the Hotel and Theatres as entry points into the emotional stories swirling around it. One such tale is that of the Terrazzo floors that tile the main entryway.

Terrazzo flooring is not a common interior feature here in the United States, but in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean, terrazzos are far more common. Terrazzos aren’t necessarily a key facet of art deco in America either, but they make for an incredible tale. And, whichever way you cut it, though, the terrazzo style is an elaborate way of flooring a place. In fact, it is a truly decorative and exhibitionist way of producing a floor.

The various terrazzos in the Latchis contain “fifteen colors or marble chips from all parts of the world.” Depicted in this glorious concoction of marble and cement are geometric shapes, whorls, and the figures of “Diana, Bellerophon, Pegasus, and Hercules and the Lion.”
The center lobby features a “work of ingenuity” in the “18-foot zodiac” that adorns its floor. Astonishingly, all of these designs were created and laid by one 19 year old Italian boy.

As the story goes, this boy came up to Brattleboro sometime preceding the year of opening in 1938. He had learned the cement-working trade from his father in Boston. One day he borrowed his father’s tools and made the trip to Vermont. (Once he completed his work for Peter Latchis he left for Hollywood where he worked for the rich and famous for the rest of his life.) The Latchis floors are the only known terrazzo works he’s known to have done on the East Coast. And yet, this story doesn’t end there.

About thirty years ago, the Theatre’s facilities manager, Rick, came out into the foyer to find an elderly woman with a tattered leather-bound sketchbook standing over the Zodiac by the concession stand. Curiously, she was weeping. He said hello and inquired if he could help her.

As it turns out, she had been looking for years for her grandfather’s terrazzo work, and she knew it was somewhere in New England. She opened the sketchbook to show Rick what she had been going off of during her search, and there were the Italian boy’s sketches.

Spectacular as all of this is, the tale of the terrazzos doesn’t end there. Sometime in the 80’s, an errant car hit the box office of Main St. and damaged the vertical terrazzo work. The then owner, great-grandson of the patriarch Spero Latchis, hired a guy from Boston to restore them. When he arrived to survey the scene, he got down on his hands and knees to admire the craftsmanship, and is reported to have said: “people should not be walking on these, these belong in a museum.”

While nothing of grave import has happened to the terrazzos since the 80’s, guests, movie-goers, and admirers continue to have their lives enhanced by their artistry every time they enter the Theatre. If you can’t wait to learn more about the Latchis Theatre building, don’t miss the release of Hayward’s book in the Main Latchis Theatre this fall during the Brattleboro Literary Festival.

On Saturday, October 15 at 10 am right here at the Latchis, we’ll be celebrating with Anne Latchis’s baklava, coffee, and a reading and book signing by Gordon.

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